Pablo O’Higgins and Mexican Muralism: A Weekend in Mexico City

Mexico City is Number One on the New York Times recommended travel destinations. CDMX has it all, they say, and I agree. This is probably the tenth time I’ve been here in the last two years for the art history study tour I organize, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

New Dates: June 30-July 3, 2016 AND September 1-4, 2016  send me an email  norma.schafer@icloud.com

Pablo O'Higgins self-portrait, and portrait of his wife Maria in background

Pablo O’Higgins self-portrait, and portrait of his wife Maria in background

I always stay in the Centro Historico around the Zocalo where it is safe, pedestrian friendly, filled with art and archeology treasures and amazing restaurants with innovative menus. First-time visitors say they join me on this study tour as an orientation to one of the biggest cities in the world.

O’Higgins mural at Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Important and well-known CDMX destinations are the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional and Bellas Artes. Few dig deeper into the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publico (SEP) and the Mercado Abelardo Rodriguez.

Figure, Pablo O'Higgins mural, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Figure, Pablo O’Higgins mural, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

The Rivera murals at SEP were among his first after returning from European art study for over ten years. These were painted between 1923 and 1928.  Now famous, Rivera attracted a cadre of student assistants to sketch and paint.

Detail, mural sketch, with Francisco I. Madero and Miguel Hidalgo

Detail, mural sketch, with Francisco I. Madero and Miguel Hidalgo

One of these was Pablo O’Higgins, a 20-year old Utah-born American artist who was attracted to the ideals of the Mexican Revolution and migrated to Mexico City in 1924 where he became a student of Diego Rivera.

O'Higgins painted wood cabinet fronts for the Emiliano Zapata School

O’Higgins painted wood cabinet fronts for the Emiliano Zapata School

We search out O’Higgins frescoes at the Abelardo Rodriguez market. They are well-hidden in a not-so-easy-to-access patio in a colonial building next to the market. Rivera was offered a commission to paint the murals in this then new city market built in 1934. Too busy with other work, he proposed that his students do the project and agreed to supervise it.

O’Higgins was also a printmaker and co-founder of Taller de Graphica Popular, an artists’ print collective that created sociopolitical art to renounce fascism and imperialism. Mexico has a deep relationship with the graphic arts and it’s alive and well in both Mexico City and Oaxaca, today.

There are four large O’Higgins mural panels in this area that deserve attention, which is why it is included in our art history study tour. As a disciple of Rivera, O’Higgins learned from the master’s style and then created his own. Rivera said if he ever had a son, he wanted him to be like Pablo O’Higgins.

Mural detail, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Mural detail, An Open Press, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Today, while visiting the Museo Mural de Diego Rivera that holds the fresco Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda, we were surprised with a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins’ work there, too. The second floor of the exhibition features a commentary about his work by art historians, fellow artists, and his wife Maria.

O'Higgins mural sketch

O’Higgins mural sketch

As one of Rivera’s top disciples, it’s fitting that O’Higgins is recognized with an exhibition in the Rivera mural museum. Perhaps the government will find a way to begin preserving his murals and those of the other students’ work at the market and other locations around the city.

Mural over arched doorway, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Mural over arched doorway, Abelardo Rodriguez Market, corn and huitlacoche

Who painted at the Abelardo Rodriguez Market?

Market fresco themes were health, nutrition, quality organic food produced by labor recognized for their contributions to physical well-being, fair compensation and working conditions.

MuralsSEP+Best81-70

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to Pablo O’Higgins and Mexican Muralism: A Weekend in Mexico City

  1. Your study tour encompassing Kahlo/Rivera sounds wonderful. This post was my introduction to Pablo O’Higgins–what a great Mexican/Irish name. Though I seldom comment, I read all your posts hungrily and enjoy them enormously.

    • Thanks so much, Jan, for being a loyal reader! Hope your husband is doing well. As for Pablo O’Higgins, his birth name was Paul Higgins Stevenson. When he disassociated from his conservative Utah family and came to Mexico after studying art in San Diego, he changed his name to Pablo Esteban O’Higgins. His father was a very conservative judge who prosecuted and sentenced to death a labor activist. For a long time, O’Higgins said he was born in San Francisco to distance himself. Very interesting reading and a key part of the Mexican Muralist Movement.

  2. Hi Norma-thank you for this wonderful post on Pablo O’Higgins. I remember seeing a few of his murals during your Diego Rivera/Frida Kahlo art history tour. As I recall some of the murals at the market were in dire shape and hope they will be preserved soon.
    Best,
    Cindy Edwards

    • Thanks, Cindy. There is growing Mexico City interest in Pablo O’Higgins. Today I discovered a major exhibition of his lithographs at the Museo Dilores Olmedo. There are many in the permanent collection– quite wonderful. Yes, let’s hope for mural restoration at the Abelardo Rodriguez Market!

  3. Hi Norma: I believe the English label for O’Higgins mural of the hand holding a pen should be ‘Workers’ Press’ or ‘Labor Press’.

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